In 2013, Ashley and Matt were coworkers at Andover UMC, just outside of Wichita. By chance, they started talking about music, and Ashley mentioned that her husband Adam would really like to be in a band. Matt had been thinking the same thing, so Ashley, Adam, and Matt started meeting to play music as Brutal Bear.
In 2014, Ashley, Adam, and Matt started a 2-year educational academy with the Missional Wisdom Foundation. Through that discernment and skill building process, several big decisions were made: 1. The band became an intentional community including Matt's wife, Catherine, and a mutual friend, Myrna. 2. Ashley and Adam decided to move into the neighborhood and eventually became across-the-street neighbors to Catherine and Matt.
In 2015, at the encouragement of Missional Wisdom mentors, we filed for nonprofit status. In reality, we had no clue what we were going to do other than be good neighbors in SoCe. That same year, Catherine and Matt left their full-time jobs to become the first part-time and bi-vocational employees of SoCe Life. In November of 2015, we received a significant grant from the Knight Foundation via the Wichita Community Foundation allowing us to legitimize our work.
In 2016, we fell in love with Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). It became a passion and began to really shape our everyday work. Eventually, we realized that ABCD was really just a fancy way of talking about being a good neighbor, and from there, the Neighboring Movement was born. As our partnerships grew, we realized that the movement was taking us outside of SoCe and into communities all over the country.
In 2017, we made the official move from SoCe Life to Neighboring Movement. We solidified our mission of tapping into a national neighboring movement with exponential life and began creating content to help the world learn to neighbor. Finally, we began to develop a training for churches called the Good Neighbor Experiment (GNE), which drew on our experiences of neighboring and ABCD.
In 2018, we launched our first cohort of GNE churches in the Wichita area. We also received a grant from the city of Wichita to pilot a program called the Neighborhood Animator Project (NAP), where we trained a group of folks from several neighborhoods in the 3rd District of Wichita with skills in neighboring and ABCD. We also had a staff change, with Catherine leaving Neighboring Movement to work for the Sedgwick County Conservation District.
In 2019, our work and staff continued to grow at a rapid pace! We hosted three GNE cohorts throughout the year and the NAP wrapped up in August with a huge block party. Then, we stumbled upon the power of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Through AmeriCorps, we were able to hire two VISTAs to work for us, Kristopher and Lydia. We also hired our friend Riccardo to work as a neighborhood animator and our friend Karen to work as a connector with churches.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic arrived, so our work was transformed in many ways but still continued to grow. We all started working from home, but this also allowed us to hang out (with distance, of course) so much more with the neighbors on our blocks. We kicked off an all-online program called the Kansas Animator Network (KAN), where we did ABCD trainings and organizing with a network of animators across the state. We also moved to online church retreats but continued to further our GNE work, highlighted by receiving a 1-million-dollar grant in the fall alongside the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and from the Lilly Foundation! This grant will allow us to create a network of facilitators to organize and host GNE cohorts across the nation! In addition to all of this, we brought on another AmeriCorps VISTA, Sydney, Lydia and Kristopher transitioned to regular staff members, we hired Claire as our statewide organizer, and we brought Catherine back on as our neighborhood organizer. It was a wild year!